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Feeling Spiritually Full But Emotionally Empty?

by writemindmatters 6 months ago in advice
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Spiritual bypassing and your mental health.

Feeling Spiritually Full But Emotionally Empty?
Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Today, it is well understood that taking care of our spiritual health is good for our mental, physical, and social health. We take better care of ourselves and others with our heart, mind, and soul working well together.

We’ve come a long way from the days of Freud when religion was linked with neurosis, and in 1980 when the DSM-3 viewed religion and spirituality as “…examples of psychopathology.”

"Creating a play space through building sculptures in clay ... help[s] clients to reconnect to their 'inner child', where memories of making mud pies, modelling animals and figures ..., come to the fore, and they are once again given permission to play". - Susan Carr.

Psychiatry and psychology now embrace religion and spirituality, recognizing the benefits of religious practices, inner child work, meditation, mindfulness, and building a relationship with a higher power and/or your higher self.

Many mental health professionals incorporate spirituality in treatment. Inner child work, a term credited to psychoanalysts Carl Jung and Eric Berne, is central to psychotherapy. Modes of therapy such as compassion-focused, Gestalt, and, ego-state therapies are all spiritual in that they bring the subconscious into consciousness.


Nonetheless, “spiritual obsession” can stimulate bypassing causing displaced anger, extreme detachment, regression of strong emotions, dissociation, cognitive dissonance, and difficulties with memory storage and recall.

What is spiritual bypassing?

I’m reminded of a story about a man stuck on the roof of his house in a flood. With the water rising, the man turns away a lifejacket, boat, and helicopter declaring that God will save him.

When he ends up in heaven he asks God, “Why did you not save me?”, and God says, “I sent you a lifejacket, boat, and a helicopter.”

This is a form of spiritual bypassing. The man let his faith forgo logic. I realize there’s more to it; I’m simplifying to stay on point.

By xu dee on Unsplash

Psychologically, spiritual bypassing is a defence mechanism to avoid difficult emotions and events, having faith that one’s spiritual beliefs and experiences fulfil psychological needs.

Psychologist John Welwood coined the term ‘spiritual bypassing’ in 1984 and many in the field have since studied and expanded on their experiences with patients who present with symptoms of spiritual bypassing.


Have you reached a spiritual bypass?

If you’ve been feeling emotionally empty and answer yes to three or more of the following questions, it’s possible you’re spiritually bypassing difficult emotions and experiences.

  1. Are you new or returning to spirituality because of a recent challenging life event?
  2. Do you often rely on a higher power to solve your problems and/or guide you to make good decisions?
  3. Do you spend more than an hour a day doing spiritual work? i.e. prayer, meditation, meetings, retreats, in groups, and on spiritually related charity (not including paid or voluntary employment).
  4. Does spirituality help you to regulate and process emotions and/or symptoms of depression and anxiety, yet some symptoms persist? (including recurring and lasting feelings of sadness, helplessness, anger, or worry).
  5. Are your close friendships mostly with people who share the same spiritual beliefs and experiences?
  6. Have you been feeling disconnected from people, even those close to you?
  7. Have those around you felt that your expectations of yourself and/or them are too high or unrealistic?
  8. Do you make decisions that you are not entirely comfortable with to avoid confrontation and negativity?


How to bypass the spiritual bypass.

“A person can have advanced spiritual development but still have poor psychological awareness.” - Muraliselvam Navaneethan.

By Fransiskus Filbert Mangundap on Unsplash
  1. Spend time with people with different spiritual beliefs and experiences.
  2. Allow yourself and others to feel negative feelings without denying, suppressing, or avoiding them i.e. “Love and light”, “It happened for a reason”, “It is what it is”, while used with good intention, tend to be platitudes in the wrong time and place.
  3. In saying that, avoid making excuses for people who consistently make decisions that do not benefit, or even harm themselves or others. There is no spiritual and personal growth in supporting harmful behaviors.
  4. When bad things happen, they are not part of a ‘bigger and better plan’, it is a bad thing that happened. Try not to over-analyze or ‘park up’ the pain, be in the ‘here and now’ of it, rather than trying to find a deeper meaning while still processing the emotions.
  5. Be aware of frequent mental and emotional discomfort, they’re signs that psychological needs are not being met.
  6. Watch out for cognitive dissonance, where opposing thoughts exist, and dissociation, disconnecting from difficult emotional events and memories, “I am a good person, but I judge the ‘goodness’ of others” and “I can’t remember anything that happened, though I know it did”.


Spirituality is central to being human, we understand and experience a sense of purpose and connection to nature, one another, and the 'greater good' through our spirituality. We gain strength and inner peace in spiritual pursuits, so long as we do not neglect logic and rational thought or our family in the process of spiritual development.

Thank you for reading.

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About the author


Writing about all matters of the mind, narcissism, personality disorders, parenting, writing, naturopathy, nutrition, and hopefully chapters from fantasy books I'll one day write.

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